Focus On: Jetty Dive
Mike and Deb Davey are the owner operators of Jetty Dive in Coffs Harbour. The Davey’s and their crews have explored all over the Solitary Islands Marine Park and surrounds, on dive and whale watching expeditions. As a part of our Whale Watch Photography Competition, we spoke to Mike about whales, whale watching and the legendary white whale, Migaloo.
Mike and Deb bought Jetty Dive in 1996. It had been a dive business since the early ’90s. The Davey’s took it further, expanding their fleet and adding retail and education elements to the business. Jetty Dive is now renowned internationally as a dive destination.
“The Coffs coast is a great place for whale watching'” says Mike. “The Coffs headlands jut out a fair way to sea, so the mums and calves can be really close to shore on their return trip.”
Why Whales Migrate
The Australian humpback migrates to the warmer north Queensland waters to give birth. This helps the calves survive. Baby whales are born without an insulating layer of blubber to protect them in their natural environment of icy Antarctica. So they spend months in warm Australian waters, bulking up on their mother’s fat-rich milk, before the 5,000km journey south.
However, during these months the mothers are enduring enforced starvation away from their food source of Antarctic krill. This is a time of vulnerability for the female humpbacks as they lose precious weight. In addition, they must negotiate numerous dangers to them and their calf, from net entanglement, water toxicity, ship collision and being hunted by the nations still carrying out this barbaric practice..
Are Whales Endangered?
The humpback whale has been removed from the Australian endangered species list. However, the threats to their survival are very real.
In the course of the last 20 years conducting whale watching tours, Mike Davey has seen the humpbacks increase in number. This is a direct affect of the international ban on whaling honoured by all countries except Japan, Iceland and Norway. Yet in the last few seasons Mike reports that whales have been harder to find. His own theory, which he hastens to repeat is just that, is that the whales have learnt to keep away from boats.
Indeed, whales are clever and can be elusive, as so many great narratives like Moby Dick attest to. Mike was one of the lucky people to see the famous white whale Migaloo, back in July of 2017. He spotted the whale off Sawtell headland and followed it as it headed north, staying at least 500 metres away at all times.
“Some of the whales get hounded,’ Mike explains. “Migaloo was one of those, so we made sure to keep well away.”
This was one of the reasons he did not venture out to follow the young white whale spotted off the east coast in June 2020. And for a much more pragmatic reason.
“A white whale is difficult to see in the water,” he says, with a laugh. “And they don’t photograph as well.”
Jokes aside, Mike is adamant about respecting the rules regarding proximity during whale watching, going no closer than 100 metres at the side of any whale or 300 metres from females with calves. Stress makes a whale vulnerable and as we mentioned above, many of the female humpbacks have not eaten for months. We all know that skipping meals makes a mammal edgy. Hangry humpbacks? Not good.
“But they are curious creatures,” says Mike. “When we spot a whale we turn off the engines and wait. Often the whale comes to us. And if we are really lucky we get mugged.”
Mugging is when the whale comes really close to play with the boat. Check out our footage of being mugged off the coast of Byron bay. It was thrilling.
In the course of their work the Daveys experience firsthand the beauty and fragility of the marine environment. They are keen to educate anyone who visits them, offering comprehensive information about the Solitary Islands Marine Park. They also support marine protection charities like the Gowings Whale Trust.
If you would like to experience a Jetty Dive Whale watching tour, why not enter the GWT Whale Watching Photography Competition? Send in your best whale photo and you could win a whale watching trip and or fab GWT merchandise.